US Congress: HCFA Subcommittee Chairman Ackersman on the Iranian nuclear crisis - 3-15-07


A Congressman from New York, and
Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia,
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

March 15, 2007

As the IAEA recently reported, Iran's nuclear weapons program is booming while the world's opportunity to prevent this horrifying prospect shrinks every day. Every day we debate options and argue about tactics, the Iranians are enriching uranium and working out the secrets to operating a massive cascade of centrifuges. Once that happens, the world will be a very different and much more dangerous place.

How did we come to such a predicament? To be blunt, five years ago, we picked the wrong oil-producing, terrorist-sponsoring, weapons-proliferating, ultra-violent authoritarian Persian Gulf state starting with the letter "I", on which to focus our attention. And ever since then, Iraq has been an enormous distraction from our most pressing national security interests.

Only recently has American policy begun to reflect the urgency of the Iranian nuclear threat. To be successful, or at least to have the chance of being successful, our Iran policy must be comprehensive. We need bigger carrots and we need bigger sticks. We need a credible diplomatic and political alternative to offer the Iranians through negotiations, and we need to simultaneously utilize every means we have of applying pressure. Everything must remain on the table. Maintaining Iranian uncertainty about the prospect of U.S. military action is the best way to ensure that force will not actually be necessary.

Likewise, we have to continue to increase the economic and political costs of Iranian proliferation efforts. Fortunately, the international debate about sanctions is effectively over. The Iranians have been so outrageous, so obnoxious and so defiant, that the UN Security Council is now debating what kinds of additional sanctions to impose, not whether to sanction at all. To be clear, sanctions are necessary, but alone they are not sufficient. Sanctions work only when they are part of a multi-faceted policy, and when they are maximized in both their scope and their application.

Our problem is that Iran's nuclear proliferation program has already achieved a number of significant technical successes, thanks especially to our not-so-very helpful ally, Pakistan. Thanks especially to A.Q. Khan's nuclear Wal-Mart, the mullahs stand on the cusp of mastery of the full nuclear fuel cycle.

Once that happens, achieving a nuclear weapons capability will only be a matter of the ayatollahs' choosing. So, time is short.

Since the elections last fall, U.S. policy towards Iran appears to have been reborn. Though we are still horribly mired in Iraq, we have recently moved new and powerful naval forces into the Persian Gulf. We have also expanded our diplomatic options by initiating a regular and serious dialogue with regional partners, and patient diplomacy may soon result in further sanctions from the UN Security Council. Likewise, we have finally taken away the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's license to instigate murder and mayhem in Iraq.

We have also had some significant success persuading some of the largest European banks that Iran is not only a bad actor on the international scene, but also a genuine source of reputational risk, a highly unreliable business partner, and a source of considerable potential financial liability. This is work that I believe can go much further still. If we grab the business community by their wallets, their hearts and minds will surely follow.

The Bush Administration has also finally accepted that dialogue with the Iranians is not itself, a mortal sin. The key, however, to any comprehensive negotiation with Iran-and this is absolutely critical-is that the ayatollah's uranium enrichment program must first be suspended. Without this condition, negotiations will only serve to shield continued Iranian progress towards a bomb.

Success in negotiations with Iran is highly unlikely. But two things are certain. First, not being seen to be willing to talk hurts America more than it hurts Iran. And second, if we don't talk to the Iranians, we will never know if success was possible. Ignoring this possibility, however slight, is simply irresponsible.

The threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon to ourselves, to our allies in the Middle East and to the entire international community, is simply too great not to use every implement at our disposal. Too much time has already gone by. We can stop the ayatollahs from getting the bomb. We can.

But only if our efforts are comprehensive and aggressive, using every tool we have and squeezing out every bit of leverage available to us. The alternatives are simply unacceptable.